What is meant by schizophrenia?
- Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms that affect the person's perception, thoughts, behaviour and mood.
- Doctors describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means that sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
- The illness may develop slowly. The first signs of schizophrenia, such as becoming socially withdrawn and unresponsive or experiencing changes in sleeping patterns, can be hard to identify.
- Because the first symptoms often develop during adolescence, the changes can be mistaken for an adolescent 'phase'. Schizophrenia is normally diagnosed during an acute phase. This is when psychotic symptoms become extreme.
What are the causes of schizophrenia?
- The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown.
- However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors.
- Faulty genes may play a part as schizophrenia tends to run in families.
- Abnormal neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine) may play a part as higher levels have been found in the brains of those with schizophrenia.
- Stressful life events may also trigger the condition in those with a genetic vulnerability towards developing it.
What are the major symptoms of schizophrenia?
- Hallucinations - hearing or seeing things that do not exist.
- Delusions - unusual beliefs that are not based on reality and often contradict the evidence.
- Muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions.
- Changes in behaviour.
- Anti psychotics are usually recommended as the initial treatment for the symptoms of an acute schizophrenic episode. Antipsychotics work by blocking the effect of the chemical dopamine on the brain.
- Antipsychotics can usually reduce feelings of anxiety or aggression within a few hours of use, but they may take several days or weeks to reduce other symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusional thoughts.
- Antipsychotics can be taken orally (as a pill) or given as an injection. Several 'slow release' antipsychotics are available. These require a person to have one injection every two to four weeks.
- The patient may only need to take antipsychotics until their acute schizophrenic episode has passed. However, most people take medication for one or two years after their first psychotic episode to prevent further acute schizophrenic episodes occuring and for longer if the illness is recurrent.
- There are two main types of antipsychotics:
- Typical: the first generation of antipsychotics that were developed during the 1950's.
- Atypical: a newer generation of antipsychotics that were developed during the 1990's.
- Atypical antipsychotics are usually recommended as a first choice because of the sorts of side effects associated with their use. However, they are not suitable for everyone.
- Both typical and atypical antipsychotics can cause side effects, although not everyone will experience them and their severity will differ from person to person.
- Side effects of both…